Fine food and gracious hosts complement stunning views.
by Elizabeth Margolis-Pineo © Maine Sunday Telegram/Portland Press Herald
At the end of a messy Maine winter on the threshold of mud season, my husband and I were in need of a relaxing trip within a few hours drive. When we heard that the Camden Harbour Inn was offering spring specials, we leapt at the chance.
Innkeepers Oscar Verest and Raymond Brunyanszky have transformed this charming and historic inn by the sea into a cosmopolitan boutique hotel, winner of the prestigious AAA four diamonds award.
Originally from the Netherlands, Oscar and Raymond insist that their goal is to be ”a tranquil oasis of comfort and perfection, with personalized service and something for everybody.” Their welcome is as warm and genuine as their commitment to the comfort of their guests. Each distinctive room has stunning views from its many wraparound porches and windows — it’s all blue ocean, craggy islands and deep green firs.
On our first afternoon, we decided to tour Cellardoor Vineyard in Lincolnville. Their free wine tastings, vineyard and garden tours are a great way to spend an hour, an afternoon or a whole day. Upcoming events include cheese tastings, chocolate tasting, a cheese and wine pairing, and more. Try local wine favorite Queen Anne’s Lace, or our personal favorites, Vino Divine and Perfect Stranger. Owner Bettina Doulton said she works really hard, ”to beat our guests’ expectations every day.” If our experience was any indication, they succeeded.
We returned to the inn just as darkness was falling. Guests were settling by the glowing fire in the library for cocktails. We slipped away for some private time to our comfy New Amsterdam suite and sank into the curved arms of a lilac velvet sofa. We shared a split of champagne in front of our own fireplace. It was lovely, tranquil and private.
Above the fire was a very large flat screen TV. I could not resist the British romance collection. Eventually, my husband tired of Hugh Grant and moved into the bedroom for college basketball playoffs. As Oscar and Raymond say, there is something for everyone.
This little break set us up for our five-course dinner at the Inn’s award-winning restaurant, Natalie’s. We met chef Klang, whose talents have earned him the 2008 Maine Lobster Chef People’s Choice award as well as accolades from the James Beard Foundation. His sumptuous dinner was the highlight of our stay, featuring both Maine ingredients and Maine wines — some from Cellardoor.
In this setting among twinkling lights and red glass votives, we began with an elegant ”shooter” of eggplant soup with artichoke-asparagus garnish.
Our next course was a delicate column of chopped local smoked salmon topped with a quail egg — amazing, mildly sweet and minimally sauced to let the flavors sing. Followed by a country pate of duck, porcini mushrooms and foie gras, accompanied by a surprising minerally Riesling. Next, he paired sweetbreads with lardons, whose slightly smoky flavor were balanced perfectly with a Spanish sherry.
In the evening, Edward noticed I had on a black dress and asked if I would prefer a black dinner napkin to the red on the table. We were served a crisp lemon sorbet before we realized we needed it. The service at both inn and restaurant goes beyond impeccable to almost clairvoyant.
Served with a fresh and lively French Mirambeau, our fifth course of delicately herbed sole alongside spinach-mushroom roulades looked and tasted like spring. We wolfed it down as if we hadn’t eaten in days.
Over dessert of chocolate mousse and a sweet Italian vin santo, we chatted with hosts Oscar and Raymond, who describe their life at the inn as easy and relaxed, ”the way the Netherlands was 20 years ago.” I’d say the Netherlands’ loss is our gain.
In the morning, guests are served another surprise ”shooter,” a tiny fruit smoothie. The European-style breakfast buffet is lush, with cheeses, yogurt, croissants and fruit. The menu has eggs any style, meats and waffles. Exotic fare includes green curry scrambled eggs, smoked salmon with Swedish potato ”rosti,” and a silky and decadent must-have: lobster eggs benedict.
We attempted to walk off breakfast through downtown Camden. We split a cappucino at Zoots, cruised Planet Toys for a purple feather boa for our niece, Tillie, and browsed colorful tablecloths at Surroundings. Shopped out, we knocked back a few beers at Gilberts Pub with the locals.
Bayview Street is ideal for walks. A left took us toward the Village past the Camden Harbor Yacht Club. A right along Atlantic Avenue brought us to Harbor Park, with boatyards, marinas and lovely water views. A turn onto Sea Street brought us to the public boat launch, an ideal spot for a sunny, breezy picnic.
On our final afternoon we were treated to a half-hour massage before our final relaxing evening at the Camden Harbour Inn’s bar, Victoria’s.
Roses are a theme, from an opulent urn at the bar to a small bouquet in our room to a tiny bud on each dining table. Their signature cocktail, the ”Victoria’s Secret,” also contains rose petals. I’d give you the recipe, but ”shh, it’s a secret.” We sampled the eclectic bar menu of fresh oysters, sushi, grilled lamb kebabs, and an outrageous lobster mac and cheese with shaved truffles. Wow!
The two Dutch gentlemen possess a winning combination: a great sense of design, color and style, and a reverence for romance. Our stay at Camden Harbour Inn was flawless, absolutely perfect. This beautiful spot is the ultimate in R&R, highly recommended — and the seasonal “specials” make it more accessible to Mainers. •